Reaching for the clouds
Alongside airplanes, lightbulbs, nuclear submarines and Cheese in a Can, the skyscraper is a quintessentially American invention.
As we witness the global rise of 1,000-foot-plus "supertalls," it’s easy to forget the humble origins of the steel-framed skyscraper. First developed in the late 19th century in response to a dearth of available land in busting-out-of-their-seams American cities, it took a while for early skyscrapers to sail past the 20-story mark — but when they did, there was no turning back.
By the early 20th century, skyscraper construction was in full swing with two cities — Chicago and New York — leading the charge. True to the American spirit, skyscraper construction was viewed as a competition, both between and within these cities. Who could build the tallest building at the fastest speed?
Along the way, astonishing feats of ingenuity were achieved, particularly from an engineering standpoint. And the public was enamored — dazzled and delighted as once-squat skylines continued to go up, up and up. And in 1931, with the arrival of the Empire State Building, everything changed. The seemingly impossible had been achieved: a high-rise office building with over 100 stories. There was no topping that. And for nearly four decades, the Empire State Building wasn't topped.
While there's nothing quite like the Empire State Building, there are numerous other game-changing, record-breaking, city-sculpting historic skyscrapers, like Terminal Tower in Cleveland (pictured). From Lower Manhattan to the Puget Sound, here's a look at 15 other essential skyscrapers — all built before World War II — that may not reach the same dizzying heights as the EBS but are just as fascinating in their own right. It's also worth noting that while these buildings were all designed and constructed during the first half of the 20th century, many have been treated to resource-conscious, 21st-century upgrades that allow them to operate in a manner that won't negatively impact generations to come.